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Classroom Gamification: What We’ve Learned

Classroom Gamification.

Classroom gamification is a teaching strategy that can help with student motivation, which can lead to more participation and engagement.

Is classroom competition good or bad?

There is a lot of literature on the subject. Competition is healthy in the right doses and in the proper context, but it can also be damaging in an educational setting if deployed irresponsibly. Here are some of the most common pitfalls of misused classroom ‘gamification.’

  1. Too much emphasis on competition reduces teamwork and collaboration.
  2. Competition where the stakes are perceived as high can exacerbate the fear of failure.
  3. It excites competitive students, and discourages uncompetitive ones. Often times, it is only the advantaged students that like competition, widening the gap.
  4. Awards for skill-related performance, grades, and other forms of long-term evaluation can create unhealthy competition.

But doesn’t Parlay have a “Points System”?

Yes. Indeed, in the earliest days of the app, we turned the points system into a leaderboard for all students to see. While this increased engagement for some, it introduced unnecessary and even potentially deflating competition for others. It also redirected the focus away from ideas and toward the accumulation of points. The stronger more competitive students were easily excited by the leaderboard. Most were not. Additionally, activities in Parlay are often graded or part of a larger participation grade. If a student’s long-term success depends on the outcome of a competition, then the fear of failure grows too. This is never what Parlay set out to be.

Today, students on Parlay do not see the points that their peers have accumulated in any form of leaderboard. They can only see the points that they have personally accumulated.  Even still, they do not see who has given them these points. This way we stay true to our goal of encouraging critical thinking through peer feedback, while steering clear of potentially polarizing competition. The purpose of the point system has migrated from a tool that incites competition in order to increase engagement to one that encourages constructive peer feedback

Re-aligning with our mission

At Parlay we no longer seek to introduce competition into the discussion, because the fundamental goal of a discussion is not to have a winner and a loser. It is about working together to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct ideas. It is about learning to listen and openly consider new perspectives.

In the end, we’ve removed inter-student competition from the application altogether. Should we reintroduce gamification into Parlay in the future, we’ll likely do so to encourage students to incentivize and challenge themselves to improve one RoundTable at a time.

Until next time,


Research + Strategies on Gamification: